The Myth of Goodwill

Malika Ait-Mohamed Parent, Under Secretary General, Governance & Management Services, IFRC Orientation for the RCRC Statutory MeetingsInterview of Malika Aït-Mohamed Parent,
made by Virginie Coulloudon,
Executive Director, 
YourPublicValue.org,
during the OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum, 29 March 2018

Published on Tuesday April 24, 2018

 

Goodwill can be a myth and a threat to good governance. This is what Malika Aït-Mohamed Parent, an independent anti-corruption expert tells Your Public Value today. Malika Aït-Mohamed Parent has been focusing on humanitarian assistance. She is committed to developing and supporting processes for better governance in humanitarian organisations. She explains how crucial internal oversight is for any non-profit organisation. We met her at the OECD Integrity Forum, where  she discussed the management risks in contexts of fragility.

I have been focusing on the industry of Humanitarian Assistance, working as a humanitarian worker for the last 30 years, and exposed to multiple field operations. In fact, I have been in missions in 93 countries and able to observe different situations, including in hostile environments. I often find astounding that so many humanitarian organisations have developed what I call a “myth of goodwill”, and now consider their employees and volunteers incapable of any wrongdoing.

But goodwill is just an intention, it has never been a firewall. Good intentions do not necessarily mean good behaviour. These humanitarian organisations often believe that co-workers will undoubtedly identify mistakes and that the risk of fraud among them is not high. Furthermore, they often use such belief as a pretext to not develop internal control mechanisms.

Such ingenuousness is rather nice to observe with people who are open-minded and rather extravert. But it also leads to severely underestimating the risk that one day employees or volunteers of goodwill may find themselves under pressure and be forced to change their behaviour. These employees or volunteers may very well seize a sudden opportunity to abuse their power or make “easy money” and develop a fraudulent attitude. All organisations lacking robust internal oversight are exposed to corrupt practices.

 

Would you say the risk is high?

 Yes, in fact, it is totally naive to believe that organised crime will never target humanitarian organisations. Organised crime targets money. It does not select clients. It also targets weak organisations. Weak organisations are precisely those that lack internal control mechanisms or investigative capacity, and do not operate with a four-eye principle. We have to keep in mind that it is extremely easy for those who want to target these organisations to go to their website and find out the governance set up and employees’ duties. With just one click they can understand which of these organisations constitutes a potentially good target.

 

Speaking from an anti-corruption fighter’s perspective, the usual practice is to look at the corruption risks that are outside the organisation and lay among clients. But you highlight internal risks.

It is crucial to understand that the humanitarian business is just like any other business with its own set of specificities. The volume of financial business transactions equals 156 billion USD per year. In 2012, then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon mentioned at the High-Level Accountability and Transparency Panel that 30 percent of the financial volume of aid was most probably diverted to corruption. This remains the figure we use in the industry and it is very sad to notice a general blindness about it. At the last World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 in Turkey, states and International Organisations made a commitment, but they never pronounced the word « corruption ». The general narrative is about the need to take action, but nothing more. The recent scandal related to prevention of exploitation and sexual abuse that happened recently at Oxfam International may have worked as a catalyst. It is a wake-up call reminding us that there is an urgent need to put things in order and to check whether the right employees are at the right place at the right moment. Doing so requires developing strategic Human Resources mechanisms and it does require getting the right investment.

 

How many organisations have articulated their strategic plan along the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their indicators? 

I’ve seen a number of organisations committed to supporting the SDGs, but I’ve not seen a single organisation that has aligned its workplan with the SDGs. If NGOs are committed to implementing the SDGs, most of the business community knows very little about them. It will therefore be difficult for them to invest and close the financing gap. Most of the volunteers I met on the field also do not know about the SDGs. They just know about their code of ethics. Most of those global concepts have not yet filtered down in a pragmatic manner.

Such a disconnect does not show any fundamental disagreement in the vision of what should be done. Yet a lot remains to be done from an operational viewpoint to make it digested by people in the field. My observation of how humanitarian aid is distributed is about fragmentation, not globalization, as the global narrative would like us to believe.

 

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